It’s a Small, Small World

The players and organizers of the first Bay Area Recorder Series bring early music into the 21st century.

Amazingly, while the Bay Area is home to one of the highest concentrations of fine early music players in the United States, it has taken until 2002 to launch a performance series devoted to the recorder. That situation is happily rectified on Sunday, January 13, at 7:30 p.m., when the Bay Area Recorder Series presents its first concert at Berkeley’s Northbrae Community Church, 941 The Alameda.

The kickoff concert features Flemish/Belgian recorder player Geert Van Gele, a founding member of the famed Flanders Recorder Quartet, performing baroque, jazz, and avant-garde compositions by Daan Maaneke, Frans Geysen, Pete Rose, and J.S. Bach. As with all concerts in the series, the Sunday performance will be preceded by a Saturday master class or workshop.

The series’ founders, Letitia Berlin and Frances Blaker, both 41, met at an early music workshop in San Rafael ten and a half years ago. Since then, the life partners, teachers, and performers have become members of the Farallon Recorder Quartet and the Tibia Recorder Duo. Frances also plays in Vermillion, a trio sonata ensemble of recorder, baroque cello, and harpsichord.

According to Berlin, composition for the recorder has flowered since 1900. A lot of this new music employs extended techniques to make nontraditional sounds. Performers sing into the recorder, use it to make percussive or multiphonic sounds, or blow in nontraditional ways. There’s even an instrument called a slide flute that allows recorder playing at greater than usual dynamic levels by pushing a spring mechanism with the chin.

Berlin and Blaker began assembling the series because “there are so many great recorder players who aren’t getting heard here.” Their efforts were aided by a “very generous” anonymous donor and the series’ tax-deductible status as an affiliate of the San Francisco Early Music Society.

“We know everybody on the first series,” Berlin explains. “The recorder world is very small. There are lots of top-notch players, but those who tour and are the most famous you can probably count on the fingers of two hands.”

When asked why she plays the recorder, Berlin exclaimed, “Playing this music makes me happy. It makes me want to get up in the morning.” Berlin first encountered the recorder at age twelve in an Augusta, Ga. parochial school recorder class. “I loved the music so much that I wanted to continue playing it. I had been playing piano, but I mainly did that alone. With the recorder, you get to play with other people.”

“The sound of the recorder strikes a real chord in me; it moves me,” says Blaker. Five years after the Berkeley native first played the recorder in elementary school, she was fortunate enough to find someone to study with. Then, when she was seventeen, she took a master class with famed Dutch player Eva Legenê, and was invited to study with her at the Conservatory in Copenhagen.

“We’re sponsoring the master classes and workshops because we want people to have similar experiences,” explains Blaker. An all-day workshop by Dutch recorder builder Adriana Breukink precedes the March 24 concert by the Farallon Recorder Quartet, while April 13’s Galhano/Montgomery Duo concert is preceded by a workshop on music by contemporary Brazilian composers. For more information on the series, call 510-559-4670.

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